Responses made by candidates for Mequon Thiensville School District Board of Directors as reported by News Graphic:
1. There have been suggestions over the past months that there are morale issues among district teachers and staff. Do you think that’s the case? Why?
Cyrier: Every organization has some individuals who are critical or unhappy with specific aspects of the company. The district is no different. Changes that have occurred in Wisconsin and the district in the last five years have significantly altered the environment for teachers. In a November 2015 survey of staff, 85 percent agreed that they are personally aligned with the district’s strategic plan. We continue to be a destination district, receiving seven times the applicants of other North Shore districts. MTSD has amazing teachers and, together with parents and students, achieve great things. That being said, we need to continually work to provide teachers with resources for their efforts and build a strong educational team, all within ongoing and challenging financial constraints. Personnel functions need to be respected and not conducted in the public arena. Like all successful organizations, the district focuses on outcomes and the best work environment to achieve results with input from all team members, satisfied or critical, in an ongoing process of improvement.
Houpt: Morale is often referred to as the feelings of enthusiasm and loyalty that a person or group has about a job or task. Unfortunately, in the five years since the implementation of Act 10, teachers across the state have cited low morale; teachers in the Mequon-Thiensville School District are no different. Collectively, we can work on the goal of being aligned towards executing the district’s strategic plan. My sincere hope is that by uniting to align and re-establish a common purpose of accomplishing the strategic plan, the result will bring focus back toward the needs of the students.
Hurvitz: Yes. The board’s own consultant’s report showed 45 percent of teachers had low morale. Typically, under 25 percent of teachers report low morale. When that many teachers are unhappy, they look for better opportunities and teacher engagement suffers.
Schultz: As a newly retired, 17-year veteran teacher in the Mequon-Thiensville School District, I personally experienced and observed the deteriorating morale among district educators. Recently, the district hired the Education/Consulting/Res earch/Analytics (ECRA) group to evaluate the accomplishment of district goals. As part of their report, ECRA verified morale issues and listed increased dialog, building trust and re-establishing respect as important areas of improvement. http://goo.gl/cD696o.
2. If you are elected, what is a new initiative or idea that you think the school district should explore?
Cyrier: Great work has been done in the strategic plan 2015-18. There are 26 new initiatives focused on social and emotional well being, which is critical to our commitment to developing the whole person and to students achieving their full potential. We are helping students build resilience to handle future challenges. In addition, closing the achievement gap and reconfiguring schools and curriculum for 21st century learning are imperative.
Houpt: I had a significant impact in the implementation of the previous strategic plan and helped develop the current strategic plan. As a result of my work with administration, we have increased special education staffing, created an autism specialist position and have secured math and reading specialists in each of our schools – ensuring that our struggling students receive the academic assistance they deserve. I look forward to working with the district on implementing and expanding programs that better the social emotional growth of our kids.
Hurvitz: Rather than having listening sessions in Milwaukee as commissioner of the Opportunity Schools Partnership Program (OSPP), Dr. Means and the board should hold such sessions in our community. People here have questions about open enrollment, staffing ratios, staff leaving midyear, reliance on tutoring, low morale and many other issues. We need a cultural shift here to welcome dialogue, even if it’s criticism. Present culture discourages and maligns feedback, like the Feb. 5 board letter to all MTSD families, employees and city leaders in response to my letter to the editor of the News Graphic, asking questions about the state of MTSD. MTSD retained a lawyer and a PR consultant to consult on these “communication issues.”
Schultz: Since school climate, culture and teacher morale are shown to significantly impact student achievement, our district administration must be held accountable for the climate and culture of our district. Getting at the heart of culture and morale concerns requires that one be open to hearing and learning from dissenting views and criticism; this is best measured by using anonymous surveys. To ensure accountability, the results of such surveys should be made publicly available. We must also inspire and increase community engagement at School Board meetings. In the interest of efficiency, I fear that barriers have been inadvertently put in place that prevent authentic dialog between the School Board and this community. This must change. We must re-evaluate the increasing number of district administrators. Are we growing the district office at the expense of students, teachers and taxpayers? We must ensure that students can pursue vocational and technical pathways at the high school.
3. Why should you be elected?
Cyrier: I believe in great schools and the responsible use of taxpayer resources. My fiscally conservative approach has benefited the district and community. In my nine years of service, our district has become the educational leader in Wisconsin. I have a proven track record focused on continuous improvement and excellence. I bring the leadership, business and human resources expertise with proven results that are achieved through a collaborative approach.
Houpt: I view myself as the voice for the voiceless, whether that is the taxpayer wanting the most prudent, effective use of each tax dollar or as an advocate for the under-represented student. My business background and communications experience allows me to utilize skills to continue to assist our children. The work on the board has been an extension of my 18-plus years as an advocate for those with special needs and my affiliation with the district organization VOICES. It would be an honor to serve the community for another term as a Mequon-Thiensville School Board member and continue to advocate what is in the best interest of all students and taxpayers.
Hurvitz: I have a record of advocating for our community and getting to the bottom of an issue. No one knew about the deep cuts to special education buried in the densely worded 2015-16 budget until I raised awareness. The incumbents, however, ensured the community couldn’t ask questions or comment until after the board voted for the cuts. With my training and former practice as an attorney, I’m a critical thinker who’ll ask questions and not just rubber stamp requests. The incumbents recently rubber stamped more than $1 million in renovation costs that were contradicted by years of declining enrollment and based on a speculative population projection. They claim our superintendent’s OSPP role won’t impact his role here when the task to create a new school system in Milwaukee is incredibly challenging and will require an immense amount of time. Taxpayers want the focus here, not elsewhere.
Schultz: The district has begun addressing morale issues. This shows that I am already making a difference. If we are to attract and retain the most valuable educators, we must have the most compelling culture and climate, which educators value above salary. My passion, dedication and strength of character compel me to do all I can to strengthen our district. Because of my experience as an educator, I have the wisdom, perspective and consensus- building skills to champion positive changes in MTSD.